What’s that saying? “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on…?”
That’s sort of descriptive, isn’t it? When it comes to trusting other people, trust is something we give only with great difficulty, but we take it away with great ease. Put another way from the other perspective, it is very difficult to earn the trust of other folks these days but very easy to lose it. Isn’t that the way you are? Hesitant to give it but quick to take it away? Whether with businesses or politicians or friends or romances or faith?
Now there are occasions when that approach to trust is with good reason. Maybe you’ve heard of the restaurant where the server brought the guy his steak but while carrying the plate he put his thumb right on the filet. “Are you crazy?”yells the now-irate customer. “You bring my food with your hand on my steak?!” And the server answers, “what? Do you want it to fall on the floor again?” Now all of a sudden that server, his restaurant, and that food lost whatever trust they had begun to earn.
You’ve been there. Some of you have had a business take advantage of you, and so you have found it impossible to trust it or a business like it again. Someone else lost trust in a friend who, you found out, was Facebooking about you behind your back…but of course nothing online really stays behind your back, does it? You know who and where it is for me? I have trouble trusting flatterers. Especially people who tell me how much more they like me than the preacher at their former church. You know what that tells me? I’m likely their next former pastor! So I’m leery and distrustful.
And I know there are others out there, sadly, who, because of what happened in their marriage, can’t trust people of the opposite sex. Some of you women think all men are like your ex and some of you guys can’t trust any woman for anything because it makes you think of your ex and how she treated you. You don’t want to hear another “somebody done somebody wrong” song. And for some folks here that path to not trusting started very, very young as someone older in your life or family made you the victim of abuse. They robbed you not only of your innocence but your ability to trust.
And then don’t even get me started on religion – you’ve been burned by churches, pastors, small group friends, TV preachers, and for a few of you that means you feel like you’re the only one living the faith with any real integrity. Something deep inside some of you doesn’t even trust me – and you’re here every Sunday! You figure there’s got to be an angle somewhere. And while you still follow God as best you can, sometimes you wonder if anyone else really is.
Which is where we find Elijah in I Kings 19:9b. Here’s a quick reminder if you haven’t been with us for “Lost And Found.” It’s about 850 BC, the children of Israel are divided into two nations, Elijah is a prophet to the northern half, called Israel, and Israel is led by King Ahab and his wife Queen Jezebel: Dumb and Dumber. Wicked and Wickeder. The two have brought with them the worship of a certain idol called Baal. When Elijah came on the scene, he predicted a drought, it happened, he survived a fatwa by fleeing, then he returns home and stages a contest between the idol Baal and the living God on Mt. Carmel, which is Baal’s home court. And Elijah wins a victory for the Lord! Dramatic, decisive, definitive. Yet that victory doesn’t lead to celebration but to another death threat against him, this time at the hands of Jezebel whose name literally means “Where is Baal?” (say it with a thick southern accent and you’ll see what I mean). So he loses all hope, which he found last week when he discovered God won’t do for you what he needs to do with you.
Which brings us to the final scene. Elijah is hovering, hiding, waiting on Mt. Horeb, unsure of his next move. Look at what happens in I Kings 19:9b: “And the word of the Lord came to him: ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?'”
I love that! You think God doesn’t know?! It’s not like God is really curious or uncertain; he just wants Elijah to gives his own situation some thought, which he does in the answer in 19:10. Note all the destructive verbs: “He replied, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.'”
Look how it ends: I am the only one left! Honestly – and this is weird – some of that destruction in I Kings 19:10 is like what folks have done to Methodism around the country (well, except for the killing part). Gutting a faith tradition from the inside-out. And a few of us, when we are feeling particularly self-righteous, have felt we’re the only ones in this unwieldy movement who still believe in Jesus and still hold up the Bible. But more truthfully, whether it’s Elijah’s reaction or mine, I think that 19:10 gives us a window into something that happens when we decide not to trust people: exaggeration. We exaggerate how bad others are; after all, Elijah is forgetting how a whole lot of others came to faith just in the previous chapter! And he is sort of exaggerating his own holiness! Lord, if it wasn’t for me, you’d have nothing going on on planet earth!
As you look at the ways you have lost trust, I have to ask you honestly: does exaggeration have anything to do with it? Do you either exaggerate your goodness or the relative wickedness of others? Are you throwing a daily pity party at which you are the guest of honor?
I think that’s what Elijah is doing here. So God does something dramatic in reply, a scene within a scene that actually gets overhyped sometimes. Look at 19:11-13.
“The Lord said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.”
You might have heard of the “still small voice;” actually, it’s better rendered as the “sound of sheer silence.” It was all God’s way of saying that he speaks as much in the silence as the spectacle. Yes, he’d set a bull on fire on Mt. Carmel, but he communicates in more subtle and less flammable ways as well. It’s almost like God’s steady silence is to contrast Elijah’s loud complaints!
But I love 10:13b and the response in 10:14:
“Then a voice said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ He replied, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.'”
Wait! Did we just hear that? Yes! It’s an exact copy of 19:9-10, which given how arduous it was to write in those days and how expensive writing material was, tells you we are supposed to notice the repetition.
You know what it tells me? Elijah has made no progress. He is in the exact same place, no movement. He has followed the exaggeration with stagnation. It’s so true. When you exaggerate people’s flaws or your virtues, when you lose trust in others, you stagnate. You stay drunk because you don’t trust the folks in AA. You stay unbalanced because you don’t trust the therapist. You stay mad because you don’t trust Proverbs 15:1. You stay skeptical because you don’t trust church, faith, God. Exaggeration leads to stagnation.
Which is why God’s answer to Elijah in 19:15-17 is so perfect: “The Lord said to him, ‘Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu.'”
All of that means, Elijah, my man, that battle you’re fighting against Baal? There are others in the fight, too. There are other soldiers, the battle is not all yours, I’m working in ways and places you don’t even know about. And then to bring it all home, God’s in-your-face reminder to a man who has lost trust in everyone but himself: “Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.”
We had exaggeration, we had stagnation, and now we have correction. You know what that 7,000 means? Seven is the number of perfection, completion. They used 1,000 in the same way we use a million, meaning: I’ve got the perfect number of people you can trust. It’s complete in its vastness and it’s vast in its completion.
Oh, I love this rebuke. Because every time I think I’m the only preacher, every time you think you’re the only honest person left, every time you think there are no good men or no good women left, God who is the One and Only whispers back: You’re NOT the only one. The One And Only has 7,000 you can trust. He has the ideal number of people to surround you, to advise you, to walk alongside you, to make you realize that there are a lot more trustworthy people than you realize because God is at work in every life on the planet! That’s what we believe about him! He is at work even in people who aren’t looking for him! He is leaving drops of grace all around!
Listen, you, who have lost trust in the basic honesty of people you see around you; look again! You’re NOT the only one. The One And Only has 7,000 you can trust. Your incessant negativity is not blessing anyone!
You, who’ve been burned in love and so lost trust in all people of the opposite sex? Look again! You’re NOT the only one. The One And Only has 7,000 you can trust.
You, who lost trust in church because of a bad experience 10 years ago? Look again! You’re NOT the only one. The One And Only has 7,000 you can trust.
I believe in this so much because I have benefited from it. There’s someone here at this church whom I let down twice over the span of a few years. The kind of preacherly thing I pride myself on and I dropped the ball twice. But not long ago, I was in the Prayer Room with that same person praying over a deep need and the whole time I thought, “what a blessing that this person trusts me. I don’t deserve it.” She must have heard the same living word as Elijah – you’re not alone, people can be trusted, don’t give up. You’re NOT the only one. The One And Only has 7,000 you can trust.
And look one more time at what God says in 19:15: “The Lord said to him, ‘Go back the way you came.'” Go back. Yes! Revisit my faithfulness, Elijah. I’ve been faithful, I’ve put people in your path, and now you need to remember it.
He has put people in your past who guided you and loved you; you just decided to have a selective memory about it. And that selectively negative memory is no great skill! Well, the Lord wants the facts of his faithfulness in the past to crash your pity party in the present. You’ve had friends, bosses, mentors, pastors, and counselors who have not only earned your trust, they kept it. And God put them there.
This is why I love our friends in recovery. Man, do you know how much trust it takes to walk into a room of strangers the first time and say, “I’m a drunk. I’m on coke. I’m a compulsive gambler.” I don’t care if it’s the only way out of a DUI or jail sentence, it takes a lot of trust. By definition, these folks put their recovery in the hands of a group of people they’ve never met but sure will grow to love. You’re NOT the only one. The One And Only has 7,000 you can trust.
So who is your 7,000? What is that perfect number, for you, of people God is asking you to trust, as a sign that he is sovereign and is still working in the world? What God is doing is bigger than you. God has a plan and you’re part of it, but you’re not all of it. This is why LifeGroups are at the heart of everything here. Because we need our own 7,000 and for a whole lot of us, it’s that group. You’re NOT the only one. The One And Only has 7,000 you can trust.
Do you know what fascinates me about this whole subject of trust? That the miracle is not the degree to which we trust God, but the degree to which God trusts us. Think about it. God trusted Adam and Eve to populate the earth even after they’d messed it up. He trusted the Jews to be a light to the world. Then he trusted the church to tell the story of how Jesus fulfilled that light. That’s the miracle. After all the times we’ve disappointed him, after all the times we’ve proven to be undeserving of the trust he places in us to accomplish his mission, God still trusts us.
I guess here is where I say: go and do likewise.